Can we say, accepting some exceptions, that overall, today and over history since the distinction between analytic and continental philosophy was introduced, analytic philosophers tend to be more scientific realists and continental philosophers tend to be scientific anti-realists?

  • 2
    No. Analytic philosophers, self-admittedly, tend to be more scientific, whether they are realists or anti-realists. For continentals, this distinction is unsuitable, their focus is elsewhere and they frame issues differently for it to apply.
    – Conifold
    Commented May 19 at 7:03
  • @Conifold Ok but the survey2020.philpeople.org/survey/results/4910 poll shows that most (72%) of analytic philosophers are scientific realists, on the other hand, continental philosophy is based on existentialism (irrational subjectivism) and idealism (quite antirealist tendency), so...
    – Starckman
    Commented May 19 at 9:12
  • 2
    You are talking about scientific anti-realism. Existentialism is a primarily ethical philosophy, and much of continental "idealism" is indifferent to philosophy of science as well. They are focused on the human condition, phenomenology, hermeneutics, social criticism, etc. Ascribing a position on an issue someone does not consider is not how it works We do not classify physicists as pro-socialism or anti-socialism either.
    – Conifold
    Commented May 19 at 9:32
  • @Conifold "Existentialism is a primarily ethical philosophy, and much of continental "idealism" is indifferent to philosophy of science as well." But irrational subjectivism is not the best friend, on the rule of thumb, with an objective understanding of external reality. On the other hand, again, the survey2020.philpeople.org/survey/results/4910 poll shows that most (72%) of analytic philosophers are scientific realists
    – Starckman
    Commented May 19 at 14:10
  • @Conifold they tried that in Russia, I think.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 19 at 14:10

1 Answer 1


Short answer

No. Analytic philosophy tends to self identify that way, but this is a false claim. Science is pragmatic and empirical, while analyticity tries to understand the world thru rationality and reasoning. Popper showed how the logical positivist self identification is self contradicted, and spelled out an alternative empirical definition of science.

Longer answer

Continental philosophy has three different threads:

  • Phenomenalism — taking first person data seriously, and building up a worldview from it. Existentialism continues this line. This thread of continental philosophy is VERY empirical, and realist.

The denial of first person data by much of the analytic tradition is very ANTI science and realism.

  • Taking sociology seriously, which most notably led to structuralism and the belief that sociology and linguistics reveal a fundamental truth about the universe. Comparative mythology revealing human psyche is in this trend. This thread of continental philosophy is also very scientific and realist.

  • Post Structuralism. Some Structuralists discovered their conclusion was embedded in their assumptions. They then generalized, and showed that no area of thought can be pursued without determinative assumption sets skewing the conclusions. This brings the universality of anything we think we know under suspicion. There is no “view from nowhere”, and if there is a scientific realism, we can never know if we have found it or deluded ourselves with our assumptions. This is an empirical and rational conclusion, that drastically undercuts scientific realism. That this radical anti realist thread is stronger on the continent is true, and is a reason to associate anti realism with continental thought.

Wrap Up

This answer does not challenge the “realism” part of your question, which is answered by the Philosophers survey. It challenges the “scientific” part.

Analytic philosophy is rational rather than empirical in its base approach to epistemology, which is contrary to science.

Also, empirically, we experience and get our data in the first person, and the denial of this by many analytic philosophers led the movement to the bizarre effort of behaviorism of doing psychology without a psyche, and much of the movement to deny science status to the “special sciences” of economics, sociology, and anthropology. The refusal to admit what our data is, and then study all of the real phenomenon in our world, is anti science. Continental philosophy did not make this mistake.

The discoveries of the role of mental framing on all conclusions by sociology HAVE inspired anti realism in the continental family.

And the pursuit of moral and “how we should live” questions by continental philosophers, which are not “rational” and therefore generally avoided by analytic philosophers, further emphasizes the differences in the traditions.

  • Whenever I see 'alternative' these days, I get a little worried.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 19 at 14:13

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